'Given a gift': Sask. woman receives life-saving diagnosis after offering to donate part of her liver to Alta. stranger

A North Battleford, Sask. woman was unexpectedly given the gift of life while trying to become a live donor to a stranger in Alberta.

In February, Krista Walker came across a Facebook post that was searching for a liver donor for Cindy Harris in Airdrie, Alta.

“I read the story and it just spoke to me. It was almost like he (Harris’ son) was sitting in my kitchen telling how badly his mom needed a liver; and me being a very healthy 49-year-old lady, I thought you know, I’ve got a liver and I reached out,” Walker told CTV News.

Walker reached out to Harris’ son offering to help as they had the same blood type and fit in the age demographic of the donor they were looking for.

The liver is the only organ that is able to regenerate itself.

She called Living Donor Services in Edmonton the next day and began the process. Walker filled out paperwork, received blood tests, completed a four-hour interview, X-rays, mammograms among other tests.

A SHOCKING SURPRISE

In April, Walker had an MRI and CT scan in Edmonton and received a call while on the drive home to North Battleford.

“I got a call saying the radiologist was looking at the scan and saw something suspicious. And when you hear the word suspicious, your heart kind of stops a little bit.”

A mass was found on Walker’s kidney and she was “floored” as soon as she heard the news.

Walker’s mom had died of kidney cancer at 41.

She and her siblings were genetically tested for many years after her death. Eight years ago she and Walker’s doctor decided to stop the tests because she didn’t carry the gene.

“When they told me I had a tumour on my left kidney, it rocked me. It was like the rug was pulled from underneath me ... it was a hard pill to swallow,” Walker said.

Walker’s liver testing was put on hold and she broke the news to Harris by email a week later as it turned out she has renal cell carcinoma - kidney cancer.

“Writing that email is something I can’t even describe. I felt like I was letting them down after they’ve been waiting for so long for a liver for their mom.”

Harris says her initial reaction was to worry she had cancer but was happy to find out it was detected.

“They wouldn’t have detected it had she not been in the middle of testing to help me. So she kept us posted on every step of her journey,” Harris told CTV News.

RECEIVING THE GIFT OF LIFE

Walker showed no symptoms from the tumour. While talking with her doctor on the next steps for treatment, the doctor said something she won’t forget.

“‘People don’t just go for random CTs and MRIs, Krista,’ he said ‘That’s a gift. You were given a gift. You were trying to give her the gift of life and she turned around and gave it right back to you,” Walker said.

“‘And that’s how you should focus on this, as she gave it right back to you.’ And once he told me that and I processed it, I said he’s exactly right.”

Walker received surgery in June to remove the four-inch tumour and says she’s doing great and feels good. However, Walker is not eligible to donate part of her liver to Harris anymore.

“They said absolutely not, you can’t because of the risk for the potential that she could be in some kind of harm's way because of the cancer I had,” Walker said.

Harris says it's heartwarming for her family to know that in Walker trying to help her, she’s been able to help her as well.

BLOSSOMING FRIENDSHIP

The two women met in Edmonton in August and have since become good friends.

Walker says she’s become the biggest advocate and cheerleader to help Harris receive a liver donation as she’s in stage four of her disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis.

“You’re trying to keep yourself going and there’s always disappointment. I find it really hard for the people who have tested for me, Krista, my children, amazing friends that have not made it and it breaks my heart because they are so devastated,” Harris said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also pushed Harris’ wait time on the donor list.

Potential donors for Harris must be O- or O+, be 55 years of age or younger and can contact Living Donor Services in Alberta.

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